Medeshi April 5, 2009
Chinese and Somalis among victims in Binghamton, NY
By MICHAEL RUBINKAM BINGHAMTON, N.Y. (AP)
Church bells tolled Sunday in honor of those killed by a gunman at an immigrant center as the Chinese government said four of its citizens were among the 13 victims.
Police are still reaching around the world to notify families of those killed Friday by 41-year-old Jiverly Wong, who was apparently upset about losing his job at a vacuum plant and about people picking on him for his limited English.
His victims came from around the globe, including Laos, Mexico, Somalia and the former Soviet republics.
Four Chinese were among those killed, said Zinqi Gao, spokesman for the Chinese consulate in New York. Their names will be released Sunday, he said.
One Chinese student was among the wounded, according to consular officials quoted by China's official Xinhua News Agency. He was shot in the arm and leg.
Wong was born in Vietnam to a Chinese family. He moved to the U.S. in the early 1990s and soon afterward became a citizen, friends and relatives said.
At 10:30 a.m. Sunday just outside the front door of the First Congregational Church, next door to the shooting scene, Tom Bucker pulled on a thick rope to sound the church's bell 14 times, once for each victim and once for Wong.
"It was very sad, but it's an honor I could do something for the people who have been injured and killed," said Bucker, who's been the bell-ringer for 15 years.
The Rev. Arthur Suggs, the church's pastor, abandoned his Palm Sunday sermon to address the carnage nearby.
"I have seen clergy on TV attempting to say something meaningful following Columbine, following Virginia Tech," he told congregants. "I have seen clergy attempt to make some sense out of what is inherently senseless. And now it's my turn."
He urged people to follow the example of the Amish, who quickly embraced the family of a gunman who killed five girls at a Pennsylvania schoolhouse in 2006. And he decried a culture that he said has become desensitized to violence.
"When will we as a culture say enough is enough?" he said.
The process of notifying families of the victims has been slowed by the many languages the victims spoke and their far-flung homelands.
On Saturday evening, police drove up to Omri Yigal's modest, neatly kept house to deliver the news that his wife, Dolores, was among the dead. A recent immigrant from the Philippines, she was in an English class at the American Civic Association on Friday morning when Wong opened fire.
"They said she probably went quickly so she didn't suffer, I pray," Omri Yigal said, his voice shaking.
His wife had dreamed of getting a job working with children.
"She wanted to learn English so she could find work," he said.
A service was planned for Sunday afternoon at the Islamic Center of the Southern Tier for two of the victims. One of them, Layla Khalil, was an Iraqi woman and mother of three in her 50s who came to the United States after surviving three car bombings in Iraq, said Imam Kasim Kopuz, leader of the Islamic Organization of the Southern Tier.
"To think that would happen here," Kopuz said.
It remains unclear why Wong strapped on a bulletproof vest, barged in on the citizenship class and started shooting, but police Chief Joseph Zikuski said he knows one thing for sure: "He must have been a coward."
Wong had apparently been preparing for a gun battle with police but changed course and decided to turn the gun on himself when he heard sirens approaching, Zikuski said.
"He had a lot of ammunition on him, so thank God before more lives were lost, he decided to do that," the chief said.
Police and Wong's acquaintances portrayed him as an angry, troubled man who struggled with drugs and job loss and perhaps blamed his adopted country for his troubles. His rampage "was not a surprise" to those who knew him, Zikuski said.
"He felt degraded because people were apparently making fun of his poor English speaking," the chief said.
Until last month, he had been taking classes at the Civic Association, which teaches English to immigrants and helps them prepare for citizenship tests.
Wong used two handguns — a 9 mm and a .45-caliber — for which he had obtained a permit more than a decade ago.
A receptionist who survived, 61-year-old Shirley DeLucia, played dead, then called 911 despite her injuries and stayed on the line while the gunman remained in the building. DeLucia remained in critical condition Saturday. The chief said she and three other hospitalized victims were all expected to survive.
Wong worked at IBM for a time, friend Hue Huynh said, and after seven years in California, came to Binghamton where he worked at the Shop-Vac plant.
Zikuski said Wong was fired from that job, where he assembled vacuum cleaners.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers John Kekis, Michael Hill and Carolyn Thompson in Binghamton; John Wawrow in Buffalo, N.Y.; and Richard Pyle in New York.
Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.